An American anti-chemical weapons advocate, a Palestinian human rights campaigner, a Congolese surgeon who helps wartime rape victims and a Swiss pioneer of pest control for sustainable agriculture have been named winners of this year's Right Livelihood Awards.
Paul Walker, the U.S. director of environmental security at Green Cross International, will share the 2 million Swedish kronor ($312,000) prize with Palestinian lawyer Raji Sourani, surgeon Denis Mukwege and Hans Rudolf Herren and the Biovision Foundation he founded 15 years ago. The prize is also known as the "alternative Nobels."
The awards jury on Thursday cited the 67-year-old Walker for "working tirelessly to rid the world of chemical weapons." It said since 1995, Walker has led the U.S. branch of an organization set up by former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev aimed at safely securing and eliminating nuclear, chemical, biological and conventional weapons globally. The jury said his leadership has helped eliminate more than 55,000 tons of chemical weapons.
Sourani, the first Palestinian to receive the award, was praised for defending and promoting human rights in Palestine and the Arab world for 35 years "under exceptionally difficult circumstances." As leader of the Arab Organization for Human Rights, Sourani organized the first fact-finding mission to Libya after the fall of dictator Moammar Gadhafi and has recently been training lawyers and human rights advocates in Syria.
Based in the Gaza Strip, the 59-year-old lawyer has been imprisoned several times by both Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
"This award means that we must continue to struggle to defend the rights of the victims," Sourani told the AP in Gaza. "We must continue to reject all forms of human rights abuses . to struggle for the development of a democratic society and the strengthening of Palestinian civil society."
Mukwege, 58, is a gynecologist who has treated more than 40,000 rape victims in Congo's war-torn Kivu region. He was credited for developing great expertise in the treatment of serious gynecological injuries and "speaking up about (rape's) root causes" despite attacks on his life.
Swiss agronomist Herren was cited for "his expertise and pioneering work in promoting a safe, secure and sustainable global food supply," helping farmers combat hunger, poverty and disease through his Switzerland-based foundation.
The first Swiss winner of the award, the 65-year-old was credited with helping to develop a pest control method using millions of wasps to eradicate a bug that had struck cassava, a staple crop that provides daily nutrition for about 200 million Africans.
"This year's group of laureates secure the fundamentals of human life," Ole von Uexkull, the director of the awards foundation, said. "They show that we have the knowledge and the tools to eliminate weapons of mass destruction, to secure respect for human rights, to end the war on women in Eastern Congo, and to feed the world with organic agriculture."
The Right Livelihood Awards were established in 1980 by Swedish-German philanthropist Jakob von Uexkull to recognize work he thought was ignored by the Nobel Foundation.
Ibrahim Barzak in Gaza City contributed to this report.
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